Across the Fence

with Ann Brooke

Category Archives: Countryside

Country gardens have special qualities

Fooling around outside: landscaping for play

grading play spaces

Sculpting the landscape creates multi-use play spaces

That’s what kids used to do before screens started taking up all their time – and they still do, given the opportunity.  Landscapes designed for play are for all ages – a climbing structure can include lower, easier attachments as well as more difficult ones;  paths and trails can accommodate joggers and mountain bikes as well as tricycles and scooters.

Landscaping for play can be a matter of sculpting the terrain so that it serves multiple active play purposes (hills can be for climbing, for running up and down, or for rolling and sledding).  Or it can involve sophisticated play elements made of modern materials (a manufactured “tree swing”, a fancy zip-line, a luge-like slide).

Whatever the methods and materials, active play is an important part of family life, and including elements that will encourage active play for children and exercise for adults is an important part of landscape design.

Gardens and wildlife: everything loves to destroy a garden

Years ago, I kept a list of plants that deer really liked to eat. It was not a long list, and I only consulted it when working in the outer suburbs, where 2-acre homestead lots were starting to encroach into the woods.

Now, I have a list of plants that deer don’t eat. It is an even shorter list, and I refer to it everywhere except in Brooklyn, where I have yet to see wild deer. Here’s the list:

  • boxwood
  • lilac
  • lavender
  • butterfly bush
  • decorative grasses
  • herbs

That’s it. These are the only major plants that I’ve never had nibbled. Deer are everywhere, including in the middle of sizeable towns and old, heavily built-up residential areas. The only real way to keep them out is to fence them out with an 8’ fence, and there are many arguments against doing that.

In the spirit of valuing what you have, it’s more friendly, less frustrating, and definitely less expensive, to use the really quite wonderful plants on this list, plus some others that you’ll discover work in your area, and have a garden that you like to look at and the deer ignore.

(Other things love your garden, too – rabbits and groundhogs and cats and dogs, either to eat, to use as a litter box, or to dig up in the hunt for even better dietary items such as worms and insects. There are some things you can do about these critters, but I’ll address that in another blog.)

Secret gardens

Unless you live in a public park or a hotel, your garden is a private place to be enjoyed by you, your family and your friends. We all lead such public and accessible lives these days that privacy and solitude are increasingly rare. Those who live in towns and cities are always a subject of interest, to neighbors, to casual contacts, and to fellow workers (and to surveillance cameras). Those of us who spend time online – that’s to say, all of us – have no privacy at all. Our habits are an open book to anyone wanting to sell us something.

Among the few places where we can be alone and be ourselves are inside our homes, and in our gardens, and we should defend the privacy of these places against all would-be observers. To sit outside in our own garden, with a book, with dappled sunlight shining through the leaves, with the rustle of a breeze and the fragrance of lavender, is to be content. We should have more of it.

Better still, if passers-by can get a tantalizing glimpse of a tree in flower, a bit of wall, a hint of water, so they are left wondering what else is there, and wishing they could see it, we can also enjoy a little mystery. Let them eat their hearts out – this one’s for you!